Secularity (adjective form secular, from Latin saecularis meaning "worldly" or "temporal") is the state of being separate from religion, or of not being exclusively allied with or against any particular religion.
For instance, one can regard eating and bathing as examples of secular activities, because there may not be anything inherently religious about them. Nevertheless, some religious traditions see both eating and bathing as sacraments, therefore making them religious activities within those world views. Saying a prayer derived from religious text or doctrine, worshipping through the context of a religion, and attending a religious school are examples of religious (non-secular) activities.
A related term, secularism, involves the principle that government institutions and their representatives should remain separate from religious institutions, their beliefs, and their dignitaries. Many businesses and corporations, and some governments operate on secular lines. This stands in contrast to theocracy, government with deity as its highest authority.
Etymology and definitions
Secular and secularity derive from the Latin word saecularis meaning "of a generation, belonging to an age". The Christian doctrine that God exists outside time led medieval Western culture to use secular to indicate separation from specifically religious affairs and involvement in temporal ones.
This does not necessarily imply hostility to God or religion, though some use the term this way (see "secularism", below); Martin Luther used to speak of "secular work" as a vocation from God for most Christians. According to cultural anthropologists such as Jack David Eller, secularity is best understood, not as being "anti-religious", but as being "religiously neutral" since many activities in religious bodies are secular themselves and most versions of secularity do not lead to irreligiosity.
According to sociologist Peter Glasner, there are ten versions of secularity whose thrust is primarily institutional, normative, or cognitive; and most of these versions do not lead to irreligion or atheism:
- Decline — the reduction in religious identification and participation.
- Routinization — institutionalizing through integration into the society. Often compromising with the society.
- Differentiation — a redefined place such as when accepting its status as one religion in a plural religious field or morphing into a more "generic" and therefore mass-appeal religion.
- Disengagement — the detachment of certain facets of social life from religion.
- Transformation — gradual change over time in a similar sense that Protestantism became for Christianity.
- Generalization — a particular kind of change in which it becomes less specific, more abstract, and therefore more inclusive. Has moderation of controversial and divisive claims.
- Desacralization — culture and rationality guide people while leaving out religious beings and forces.
- Segmentation — the development of specialized religious institutions, which take their place beside other specialized social institutions.
- Secularization — the processes of urbanization, industrialization, rationalization, bureaucratization, and cultural/religious pluralism through which society moves away from the "sacred" and toward the "profane".
- Secularism — the only form that leads to outright rejection of religion, usually amounting to atheism.
Examples of secular used in this way include:
- Secular authority, which involves legal, police, and military authority, as distinct from clerical authority, or matters under church control.
- Secular clergy in the Roman Catholic Church, who, traditionally, do not live the monastic lives of the regular clergy and are therefore, in a sense, more engaged with the temporal world. For a related Roman Catholic reference, see secular institute.
- Secular education, schools that are not run by churches, mosques, or other religious organizations.
- Secular states with secular governments that follow civil laws—as distinct from religious authorities like the Islamic Sharia, Catholic Canon law, or Jewish Halakha—and that do not favor or disfavor any particular religion.
- Secular Jewish culture, cultural manifestations of Jewishness that are not specifically religious.
- Secular music, composed for general use, as distinct from sacred music which is composed for church use. Secular sonatas, in the 17th century, were those not composed for church services.
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety, a secular alternative to the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) organization which is a loosely religious one although nondenominational.
- Secular society refers to aspects of society that are not mosque-, church-, synagogue-, or temple-affiliated.
- Secular spirituality, the pursuit of spirituality without a formal affiliation with a church, or other religious organization, or the pursuit of spirituality specifically in the context of temporal affairs.
- Secular peers, in reference to the Peers of the House of Lords that are not connected to the Church.
- Secular humanism
- Secularism is an assertion or belief that religious issues should not be the basis of politics, and it is a movement that promotes those ideas (or an ideology) which hold that religion has no place in public life. French frequently uses laïcité as an equivalent idiom for sécularisme. Secularist organizations are distinguished from merely secular ones by their political advocacy of such positions.
- Laïcisme is the French word that most resembles secularism, especially in the latter's extreme definition, as it is understood by the Catholic Church, which sets laïcisme in opposition to the allegedly far milder concept of laïcité. The correspondent word laicism (also spelled laïcism) is sometimes used in English as a synonym for secularism.
- Laïcité is a French concept related to the separation of state and religion, sometimes rendered by the English cognate neologism laicity and also translated by the words secularity and secularization. The word laïcité is sometimes characterized as having no exact English equivalent; it is similar to the more moderate definition of secularism, but is not as ambiguous as that word.
All of the state universities in the United States are secular organizations (especially because of the combined effect of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution) while some private universities are still connected with the Christian or Jewish religions such as Boston College, Emory University, the University of Notre Dame, Wheaton College and Yeshiva College. Other universities started as being religiously affiliated but have become more secular as time went on such as Harvard University and Yale University. The public university systems of the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, and Japan are also secular, although some government-funded primary and secondary schools may be religiously aligned in some countries. Exactly what is meant by religious affiliation is a complex and contested issue since the ways in which religious identity is framed is not consistent across different religious and cultural traditions.
- Islam and secularism
- Secular state
- Separation of church and state
- State religion
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. "Secularity". ("1. The condition or quality of being secular. 2. Something secular.")
- Eller, Jack (2010). "What Is Atheism?". In Phil Zuckerman. Atheism and Secularity Vol.1: Issues, Concepts, Definitions. Praeger. pp. 12–13. ISBN 9780313351839.
- Lewin, D. (2016) Educational Philosophy for a Post-secular Age. London: Routledge
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